#AE17 #SluggerReport: SF’s “snap election” to get DUP off the RHI hook, and a Mid Ulster profile

So in today’s #SluggerReport, three main points:

  • Will the DUP pay for the RHI scandal? There’s always events dear boy, but SF’s snap election eight months after the last one, helps bury it. No opposition party is ready to either exploit this story yet, or fight an election.  So too does Hamilton’s rescue plan (passed by the Assembly this week). O’Muilleoir’s belated calling of a Public Inquiry (which now take six months, not the many years he previously predicted) too.
  • The DUP’s moves as noted by David last night, show an important dynamic at work more largely in this election: ie, the lack of room for manoeuvre created by the dropping from six seats to five. Peter Weir’s technocratic ability at Education is a high ticket item as far as the party is concerned, so they’re moving him to Newtownards from Bangor where a third DUP seat is no longer viable.
  • Will Sinn Fein get a boost from Health Minister Michelle O’Neill becoming dFM? The short answer is no. The truth is that Mid Ulster it have had all the advantage it’s going to get out of Martin McGuinness’s long tenure there both as dFM and as the local MP. Despite carrying a 2.8 quotas, it looks like their third MLA is for the chop. Looking at last year’s figures, it looks like it’s likely to be Linda Dillon.

More, Mid Ulster. Mid Ulster is literally the bit in the middle of Northern Ireland bounded in south by FST, and to the north East Londonderry. Since 1997 this has been a solid nationalist seat so at Westminster time Francie Molloy took nearly 50% of all the votes.

It’s made up from two counties, east Tyrone which has Cookstown at its centre, and a few miles up the road and across the county line in south Co Derry (or Londonderry as you prefer) Magherafelt plays a similar role. Each is a hub for schools, shops and public services.

Aside from these two centres which have very small nationalist majorities, there’s not much mixing. Coalisland and Bellaghy barely contain any Protestants these days. So in a very real sense the two communities behave very much like electorates in separate countries.

With five seats, the three main Unionist parties have enough for two quotas, leaving just three seats for four retiring Nationalist MLAs. No matter how SF balance the ticket the longest sitting MLA Patsy McGlone is on 0.9 of a quota and will quickly hoover up transfers to nip across the line early on.

Even with a perfectly balanced ticket starved of transfers third the SF candidate is likely to pipped for seat by the UUP’s Sandra Overend. For that reason the third candidate will likely to be a candidate on paper only.

It’s the price the bigger parties have to pay in some areas, like the DUP with Weir in North Down. The question will be proportionality across the board.